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Voter ID law struck down (for now) in Pennsylvania

The judge said it violated the fundamental right to vote.

A Pennsylvania judge has struck down a Pennsylvania law that would require photo ID for voting, saying the law placed an unreasonable burden on the right to vote.

The ruling will be appealed and ultimately decided by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The courts had delayed implementation of the law pending the court case and the law remains in that status.

Minnesotans will recall that a similar proposal, which was on the state ballot in 2012 as a proposed state constitutional amendment, was defeated by the voters. In Minnesota, Pennsylvania and other states around the country, requiring photo ID at polling places is favored by Republicans and opposed by Democrats for partisan reasons that are obvious to anyone who looks at the issue.

Judge Bernard L. McGinley of Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court rejected the basic contention that the law was necessary to prevent voter fraud or even that it was intended to prevent voter fraud. That’s pretty strong stuff for opponents of such laws who have always argued that the real motivation behind the laws is to suppress turnout among the kinds of voters who tend to support Democrats.

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Election law expert Rick Hasen of the the University of California at Irvine (and keeper of the estimable Election Law Blog) provided a first reaction to the ruling that I took as a caution against liberals getting too far ahead of themselves in celebrating the Pennsylvania ruling.  For example, Judge McGinley specifically said he was not holding that the law violated the principle of equal protection, nor was he holding that the law was motivated by an attempt to disenfranchise minorities or Democrats.

Even when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court put a stay on the implementation of the law heading into the 2012 elections, the justices signaled that a properly drafted voter-ID law would be constitutional. So the final ruling in this case is likely to depend on details of the law itself rather than the basic constitutionality of such laws.

Judge McGinley’s full ruling is here.